As fate would decree, both of California’s U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, both played starring roles in last week’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and both had personal political agendas.
Feinstein is running this year for re-election and needed to be critical enough of President Donald Trump and Kavanaugh to avoid alienating fervently anti-Trump Democratic voters, while maintaining an air of senatorial decorum.
Harris fancies herself a 2020 presidential hopeful, and saw a golden opportunity to raise her profile as a fierce anti-Trump warrior – in competition, it seemed, with another committee member, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who’s also an unannounced presidential hopeful.
While Feinstein echoed the Democratic talking points about Kavanaugh’s nomination, particularly that his confirmation was being rushed through the Senate, she also was obviously distressed by the circus-like atmosphere.
“I’m sorry for the circumstances but we’ll get through it,” Feinstein told Kavanaugh at one point as demonstrators chanted loudly.
That earned Feinstein some jibes from the Democratic Party’s left and from her challenger, state Sen. Kevin de Leόn, who has positioned himself as an implacable Trump foe.
Brian Fallon, director of the leftist group Demand Justice, tweeted “ridiculous” about Feinstein’s remark, while de León, in a fundraising appeal to supporters, reacted, “Are you kidding me?” He also, in a tweet, demanded that Feinstein “stand with (protesters)… not apologize for them.”
Feinstein didn’t rise to the bait, however, telling McClatchy Newspapers, “The purpose of these protests is to disturb, and the purpose of the disturbance is to stop the testimony, and the testimony clearly has to continue on. So we don’t have a lot of choices.”
While Feinstein was characteristically polite in her questioning of Kavanaugh, Harris was contemptuously adversarial, hectoring Kavanaugh on every conceivable hot-button issue, and promoting herself on social media, in video clips and fundraising appeals.
After one of several exchanges over abortion, Harris featured a clip in an Internet ad saying, “If you’re with me in this fight, can you sign my petition opposing Judge Kavanagh’s nomination to the Supreme Court as Republicans rush through his confirmation hearings this week?”
The Harris-Kavanaugh episode that gained the most media attention, however, came after she hinted that she had a smoking gun tying the nominee to Trump’s personal lawyer.
The Los Angeles Times’ Michael McGough described the clash this way:
“The drama unfolded Wednesday when Harris asked the judge: ‘Have you discussed [Robert S.] Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump’s personal lawyer?’ Sounding like a prosecutor warning of a perjury trap, she added ominously: ‘Be sure about your answer, sir.’
“Kavanaugh, perplexed, asked, ‘Is there a person you’re talking about?’ Harris, unable or unwilling to provide a name, shot back: ‘I’m asking you a very direct question: Yes or no?’
“When Kavanaugh didn’t give her the answer she wanted, Harris turned mind-reader, saying: ‘I think you’re thinking of someone and you don’t want to tell us.’ But Harris herself didn’t provide any information about this supposed corrupt conversation.”
Clips of the incident got heavy play on talking head television, which was its apparent goal, even if it added nothing to the confirmation process itself.
The bottom line: Kavanaugh most likely will be confirmed, Feinstein most likely will win re-election and Harris most likely will continue to be one of many Democrats who see themselves as presidential candidates two years hence.